Not even NASCAR is immune...
Not even NASCAR is immune from the weather. Violent storms moved across Chicagoland Speedway last month forcing the cancellation of Thursday activities, a scene replayed countless times this year at short-tracks across the country. Photo by Rusty Jarrett/NASCAR
The Automobile Race Club of America, better known as ARCA, sanctions full-bodied stock car racing, trucks, Late Models, Street Stocks, and four-cylinder cars across properties that include the ARCA RE/Max Series, Lincoln Welders Trucks Series, and two short-tracks, Flat Rock and Toledo Speedways.
You're going to have these economic cycles. ARCA has been doing this since 1953, and since 1981 I've seen us have both high car counts and low car counts. You have to be in it for the long haul. It's not fair to throw your hands up and say the economy is bad so that's why were doing bad.
We're getting a perspective from Michigan and Pocono (where ARCA runs with NASCAR) as well as Flat Rock and Toledo. The RE/Max Series is doing very well, we've got Jack Roush running every race and that's gratifying for us to have him in the sport. Yet it's challenging for the Andy Belmonts who have run our series for so many years to compete with Roush's financial assets.
Like the RE/Max Series ARCA's Lincoln Welders Truck Series is gaining both in truck count and in the quality of the events. I don't see that backtracking.
As far as our short-tracks, we are in this little geographic area very close to Motor City (Detroit). If we're holding our own, we're staying in the fight. Flat Rock and Toledo are two different tracks. Flat Rock has a good regular Friday night show. Toledo actually has two tracks, a 1/4-mile and a 1/2-mile. The quarter is healthy while the half-mile faces more challenges. It runs more specialized shows with bigger, more expensive Late Models.
Overall, 2008 would be a year where if you were budgeting for double digit growth you are going to be disappointed. Still I don't see anybody putting the for sale sign on the racecar. What we are seeing is guys and gals are getting more choosy. Some are choosing just to race the bigger shows with the bigger payouts while others are skipping the big shows all together and focusing their efforts more locally.
IMCA Modifieds like these...
IMCA Modifieds like these running at New York's Brewerton Speedway have remained healthy year in and year out. Brett Root, IMCA's vice president of operations, attributes the success to their philosophy of affordable racing coupled with a fair and consistent rules package. Photo by Joe Alexander
We've been fighting this for years and it won't get any easier. For consumers today there is a wider range of options of what to do on a Friday or Saturday night. To be a successful promoter the fans have to want to come and be with you. People are being more selective in terms of what they do with their money and it ratchets up the degree of difficulty to convince consumers that what you have is something compelling. You have to make your product, in our case cars going in circles, so compelling that they want to get up out of their easy chair.
NASCAR consists of three national series (the Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series, and Craftsman Truck Series), four regional series, and one local grassroots series, as well as two international series.
Let's acknowledge up front that even in the best of times it takes special people to run a racetrack. What we find is that the big stories of 2008 are weather and the general economy. We have had an inordinate amount of rainouts, making it hard to gauge the true nature of the market, but in talking with our promoters we've found that high fuel prices being detrimental to the industry is the minority opinion.
Despite the challenges, we believe there is an opportunity for short-track owners to cater to race fans who are now less likely to travel longer distances and less likely to pay for big ticket events. A number of promoters are seeing an upswing in ticket sales because of this. Of our roughly 60 NASCAR sanctioned local racetracks, 20 of them have seen an increase in car counts and attendance, 15 have seen a decrease, while the remainder are on par with what they did in 2007. The dramatic drop in car counts has not come.
Our traveling series hasn't seen an impact at all; the four US tours (Camping World Series and Whelan Northern and Southern Series) are very healthy right now.
The key is a philosophical change the sanction underwent in the last several years. In past times the focus was on quantity of tracks now it's on the quality of the track. The NASCAR sanction program is not for everyone. Part of our philosophy is to try to nurture...avoid telling the promoter how to run their business. We provide the tools for the local promoters to use if they choose.